A Joyous Hammer Strikes Again at Y-12

Clowns and courage against nukes

By Janice Sevre-Duszynska

General Mayhem (righ) and his clown companion submit to arrest. Photo by Tom Bottolene/circlevision.org.

Oak Ridge, Tenn. – “For those of you on probation, turn off your ankle bracelets,” said folk singer/songwriter Steve Jacobs, a member of the St. Francis Catholic Worker in Columbia, Mo. About 250 activists began the July 3-5 gathering for Resistance for a Nuclear-Free Future at Maryville College.
“The purpose of the weekend was to increase awareness about nuclear issues and to promote direct action. Thirty-seven activists were arrested.

“The timing – two months after the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and before the mid-term congressional elections – provided an opportunity to focus attention on nuclear disarmament and the need for nuclear-free and carbon-free energy,” The Nuclear Resister reported.

Participants celebrated the 30th anniversary of Nukewatch, the Plowshares movement and The Nuclear Resister.

The conference received a message from the Rev. Louis Vitale, written from the federal prison in Lompoc, Calif., where he was held until the end of July for trespassing during a protest at Ft. Benning, Ga. Participants also wrote messages of support for other anti-nuclear and anti-war prisoners.
‘Imperial darkness’

Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA), related the history of the protests at the Y-12 nuclear-weapons complex in Oak Ridge.

“On Aug. 6, 1988, the 43rd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the blue line at Oak Ridge was crossed, and the first nuclear resistance there began,” he said Ralph Hutchinson. “It has been maintained ever since. In 1998 six actions launched modern-day resistance. After 9/11, the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Complex was renamed the Y-12 National Security Complex.”
Y-12 was the code name for the site that enriched the uranium for the atomic bomb that the United States used to destroy Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. The plant produces essential components for all U.S. thermonuclear warheads, according to OREPA.
Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico talked about President Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review, which includes the new Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12; the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at Los Alamos, N.M,; and the first new nuclear weapons plant in 32 years, in Kansas City. A protest is planned there for Aug. 14-16.

Recommendations at the conference included focusing on abolition – treating nuclear weapons as something as evil as slavery – and revitalizing public opposition to nuclear power.

The issues are linked, according to Hattie Nestel, a member of the Shut It Down Affinity Group, active against the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vermont.

“No nuclear weapons and no nuclear power,” she said.

Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence recently returned from a month-long visit to Pakistan. She spoke about people trapped during night raids and U.S. drone attacks in connection with the so-called War on Terror. Kelly said she met an Afghani man who is one of 7,000 people who drive cars for the U.S. Army. A roadside bomb, an “improvised explosive device,” shattered his arm and leg. Soldiers took the man to an Italian hospital, and he never heard from them again. He whispered that he had seen U.S. forces kill people without any reason, Kelly said.

Workshops covered a wide range of peace and justice issues, from “Nonviolent Blockading” to “The Second Part of the Action: Representing Yourself in Court.”

Liz McAlister of Jonah House, widow of Plowshares Eight member Phil Berrigan, discussed a quilt draped in back of the stage, quoting the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares. Nations shall learn war no more.”
“Isaiah announced the impossible,” she said. “And we must, too, in times like now of imperial darkness­ of duplicity and conniving in high places. They dust off their tomes to ‘just wars,’ but the words of Isaiah must come to pass. These words surpass the human even while they demand conversion of hearts. We are not objects of fate. Despair is to our shame. Come forth. Come forth … They dent the weapon in seeking to transform the object, and the transformers are transformed themselves.”

Hammer time

The Rev. Carl Kabat, a Catholic priest for 51 years, has spent 18 years in prison. He sometimes dresses as a clown – “a fool for Christ” – during protests. He reminded activists not to be too serious. He also reminded Catholics that the hierarchy has condemned nuclear weapons.

“Working for justice is a constitutive element of the Gospels,” Kabat said. “It can be legal or illegal. Then we celebrate.”

Kabat quoted Rosa Parks, famous for refusing to yield to racial segregation on a bus in the southern United States in the 1950s: “You mothers know. You do it because it needs to be done. We have a part in heavenly decisions.”

Kabat is one of the Plowshares Eight, who entered a General Electric weapons factory in King of Prussia, Penn., in 1980 and used household hammers to start destroying warhead cones on missiles.

Molly Rush, another of the Plowshares Eight, talked recalled her skepticism about the late Phil Berrigan, a former Catholic priest who was a legend in the anti-war movement. Rush said she and Berrigan were brainstorming.

“We talked about how we would get inside the GE plant,” she said. “When Phil Berrigan said, ‘Perhaps we could drive up in a floral truck, bringing flowers’ … I thought it was a crazy idea.”
She quoted Berrigan: “Human beings made these (bombs), and human beings can unmake them.”

The lesson of the first Plowshares action?

“It takes vulnerability,” Rush said. “When I hammered down on the warhead, a piece of it chipped away and cut me under my chin. I was not invulnerable.”

Thirty-seven people were arrested in protests at the Y-12 plant – 23 for blocking the road with a banner and 14 on federal trespassing charges.

(Disclosure: The writer was among those arrested. So was Jon Blickenstaff of Cincinnati.)